Toronto based band The Strumbellas have become one of the cornerstones of Canada’s vibrant alt-country scene since 2006, combining traditional country and roots music with a distinctly modern feel.

Since 2000 Toronto based band The Srumbellas has been performing their own brand of music.  Just exactly what you’d call their music, however, is hard to describe.  A fusion of alternative country, folk and pop, The Srumbellas have been called “popgrass” by previous writers.  But with the use of traditional bluegrass instruments such as the banjo and fiddle, brought together by a more modern rock undertones, The Strumbellas have become one of Canada’s most celebrated alt-country bands.  There debut album, My Father and the Hunter, was nominated for multiple Juno Awards in 2013, raising the exposure of the group to a wider audience.

The Strumbellas second album, “We Still Move on Dancefloors” was released in late 2013.

Made up of songwriter Simon Ward on vocals and guitar, David Ritter on vocals and keys, Jon Hembrey on lead guitar, Isabel Ritchie on violin, Darryl James on bass guitar, and Jeremy Drury on drums, the group finds its roots in the Northern Ontario town of Lindsay, Ontario, but grew organically in the city of Toronto, but the small town roots feel of The Strumbellas can be heard in every note of their music.  In late 2013 The Strumbellas released their second album, We Still Move on Dancefloors, with great praise and anticipation.  With success in Canada, The Strumbellas also decided that it was time to bring their brand of music into the United States on a short American tour.

I spoke with singer/songwriter Simon Ward just prior to their American tour.  A good natured and laid back guy, Simon was talked about about the band and their music, as well as being part of the growing alternative-country scene in Canada.

Sam Tweedle:  So you have been touring the US.  Is this your first foray into America?

Simon Ward: We played a show in Chicago a month back, but this is our first tour of the US.

Sam:  Do you have much of a fan base South of the border?

“(Alt-country is) so assessable and people are doing a great job at it, which is why it’s coming back. People are just taking traditional country music and doing some really fun stuff with it.”

Simon:  I don’t know, but we’ve been getting a lot of messages from the States so we shall see.

Sam:  Tell me a bit about your own personal journey in music.  What were you listening to when you first started doing music and how does that influence the music you write now?

Simon:  I used to listen to hip hop religiously in high school.  I was even in a hip hop group.  I was hard on it, and then in my twenties I got switched on to Ryan Adams and I got really fascinated with alt-country.  I’ve been there ever since.  I listen to a little bit of everything, but that was the trend I took.

Sam:  Alt-country has become an interesting sub-genre of music in the last five years.  It’s really growing to be one of the most prominent genres in Canadian music today.

Simon:  Yeah.  Definitely.

Sam:  The Strumbellas are smack in the middle of it and becoming one of the most important Canadian groups in the genre.  What do you feel is the reason it’s being embraced by Canadian listeners?

“Its super dark lyrics, but more fun, upbeat music. I don’t know why that is exactly. …I find that it’s just naturally the way it comes. I love upbeat music and that’s what I like to wit I can’t write a happy song for the death of me.”

Simon:  I don’t know.  It’s a really good question.  I definitely think that there are some bigger bands that paved the way for us little guys.  I think it’s just a great genre.  It’s so assessable and people are doing a great job at it, which is why it’s coming back.  People are just taking traditional country music and doing some really fun stuff with it.

Sam:  I find that in today’s industry of auto-tune and insipid lyrics, that it seems to be a genre where the singer/songwriter is able to create something honest.

Simon:  For sure.  Totally.  It’s really traditional, and I think people really connect with it.

Sam:  One thing I find interesting about The Strumbellas is the fact that the music soundsuplifting and fun, but the lyrics are really dark.  It’s a strange juxtaposition of sound vs. content.

Simon:  You’re right on.  Its super dark lyrics, but more fun, upbeat music.  I don’t know why that is exactly.  I was a big Shannon Hoon fan at one point in my life, so maybe that had an influence because he sort of had that thing too.  I find that it’s just naturally the way it comes.  I love upbeat music and that’s what I like to wit I can’t write a happy song for the death of me.

“We’ve worked really hard for five years and it’s just started to pay off. A lot of people are listening now. We’re just enjoying things as things come along.”

Sam:  How did The Strumbellas come together?

Simon:  I’ve been writing songs since I was ten, but I never really got into a band. It took me until I was twenty five to figure out how to start a band.  I didn’t know what to do, because I was in Toronto and I didn’t really know anybody.  So I put an ad out on Craigslist and it went from there.  I had a bunch of people come to my apartment and after some people came and went, and that’s how we formed.  Two people in the band right now are still from that original Craigslist ad.  Then through people coming and going, three other guys are from my hometown, Lindsay Ontario, who came to Toronto and joined the band.

Sam:  Lindsay is just around the corner from me.  We were practically neighbours.

Simon:  Yeah.  We’re old Lindsay boys.

Sam:  You’re doing a residency at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.  This is the second time you’ve done this.  Do you find it a rewarding experience doing a residency type gig?

Simon:  Yeah.  It’s great.  It’s kind of cool to see it grow.  As the month goes you see more people come and the familiar faces.  It’s almost like an episode of Cheers.  It’s like getting together every week with all the people that want to her you play.  I like it for that reason a lot, and then I don’t have to travel.  It’s great.  Its really fun and comfortable and home.

Sam:  The new album has gotten a lot of support and you’ve been getting a lot of play on CBC.  I also saw you featured on the Galaxy Cinema Pre-Show last time I went to the movies.  How has that helped expand your audience?

” I was the only one [in The Strumbellas] that was anti-vinyl. I said “You guys are crazy. Nobodys going to buy vinyl.” …But you’re right, man. I’m surprised how many people buy vinyl. It’s absolutely doing very well, and its caught me off guard.”

Simon:   It’s been fantastic!  We’re having a blast hearing people tell us that they saw us at the movie theater.  [Our music was used] on Hockey Night in Canada!  We’ve worked really hard for five years and it’s just started to pay off.  A lot of people are listening now.  We’re just enjoying things as things come along.

Sam:  Both of your albums have also been released on vinyl.  Vinyl is really making a huge comeback these days.  I can’t resist buying vinyl when I see it being sold at a concert.

Simon:  It’s funny that you say that because I was the only one [in The Strumbellas] that was anti-vinyl.  I said “You guys are crazy.  Nobodys going to buy vinyl.”  Dave, who like you, always buys records, said “No.  We got to do it.”  So he and our bassist backed the money for it.  But you’re right, man.  I’m surprised how many people buy vinyl.  It’s absolutely doing very well, and its caught me off guard.  I guess people like the sound of the records.  I’m starting to come around.

Sam:  So what’s next for The Strumbellas?  Are you just riding on the new album?

Simon:  Right now, man, that’s about it.  Our goal right now is to play shows and tour the album and our main focus is to break new ground in the States.  We have lots of festivals in the summer.  Right now we just want to play shows until we’re ready to do our next album.

Sam:  Do you have any new songs for a new album?

Simon:  Writing never stops.  Theres a lot of songs.  I’m always writing.  That’s my favorite thing to do.  It ever stops, and I don’t think it never will.  That’s my biggest passion in music.

High energy with a tinge of darkness, We Still Move on Dancefloors is a fantastic album that mixes traditional country with a new energy without making it sound like the standard “pop” country often heard on the radio.  Worth buying for those who are tired of electronic music and studio tricks and want to listen to something more honest and homegrown.  For more information on The Strumbellas visit their web-site at http://www.thestrumbellas.ca/index.jsp.

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While most comic book fans may not realize it, Canada has had a long history in producing superhero comics far beyond Wolverine and Alpha Flight.

If you asked most comic book fans to name a Canadian superhero the first name out of their mouths will be Wolverine.  Possibly the most important comic book character created in the last forty years, Wolverine was the unpredictable break out star of the 70’s X-Men reboot who became one of the superstars of Marvel Comics.  Some might talk about Alpha Flight – the Canadian based superhero team published by Marvel Comics which have maintained a cult following since the 1980’s.  A few others may remember Captain Canuck – a publishing oddity from the mid 70’s.  But after that, most people would be stumbling to try to name another Canadian superhero.  Oddly enough, Canada has a colorful history of publishing superhero comics that most fans, both Canadian and American, have little knowledge of.  During the 1940’s there was a Canadian superhero boom when American comics were banned from crossing the border into Canada.  Characters like Nelvana of the Northern Lights, The Penguin, Johnny Canuck, Purple Rider, Red Rover and Phantom Rider were published by a string of Canadian based comic book companies that sprung up during WWII.  However, as quickly as the Canadian comic boom came, it fell again before the beginning of the 1950’s.  In the years that followed most Canadian comic creators brought their talents to American companies, while others working in independent comics seemed to abandon superhero comics all together and lean towards biographical comics.

Premiering on Super Channel in March, “Lost Heroes” is a new documentary looking at the history of Canada’s forgotten superhero legacy.

However, in recent years interest in the “Canadian Whites,” as collectors call this unique Golden Age Canadian comics, has increased and fans and collectors have been sharing information and rediscovering a long forgotten part of Canadian pop culture.  Now the history of Canadian Superheroes is about to come alive in a brand new documentary, Lost Heroes, which is set to premier in March 2014 on Super Channel, and which will be featured at various comic conventions and film festivals across North America.  Three years in the making, Lost Heroes is directed by Toronto based filmmaker Will Pascoe and a dedicated team of people who have put hours of hard work and passion into a unique project focusing on the past, present and future of Canadian comics, and opening up a doorway for more people to learn about Canada’s forgotten comic book legacy.

I had the opportunity to speak to Will Pascoe about Lost Heroes just as plans were being made for its debut at the Royal Theater in Toronto on March 1st, 2014. Our talk went beyond the film and comic books, but also about how we define ourselves as Canadians, and how that has affected the pop culture industry.

Sam Tweedle:  Lost Heroes has taken you years to put together.  I first heard about the project about three years ago.  How long of a process has it been for you and your team?

“The challenging thing (in editing “Lost Heroes”) became what heroes we include in the movie, what characters we exclude, and how to limit it, because there are dozens of Canadian superheroes. We had a wealth of characters, and a wealth of writers and artists to profile, and there was just no way that we could do it in a two hour film. So we had to scale it back, and we had to make some tough choices.”

Will Pascoe:  Well, it’s been one of these things where we got green lit by Super Channel but we didn’t have all the money in place to make it.  So we had to go out and find more money, which my producer, Tony Wosk, was able to do.  In the meantime, I got hired on a show in the States called The Finder for FOX, so I had to move to LA on very short notice to do that.  Since we didn’t have all our money we thought we’d find a way to get the ball rolling slowly, which we were able to do because we had a little money from Super Channel.  We were able to do preliminary shooting at the 2011 Comic Con in San Diego.  I drove down to San Diego and Tony and my director of photography, Andrew Oxley, flew down from Toronto with all the gear and we spent four days in San Diego shooting interviews and getting lots of convention footage.  That was kind of our first actual shooting of the film, in the summer of 2011.  I wrapped up The Finder in January 2012, and when I got back to Toronto we kind of hit the ground running and started interviewing people.  We went up to Ottawa to the National Archives and shot some stuff there and we did interviews in Montreal and Toronto.  We had a rough cut in January of 2013 and it looked pretty good, but it was too long.  It was longer than anyone wanted it to be.  It could have been a three hour movie because we had so much material.  The challenging thing became what heroes we include in the movie, what characters we exclude, and how to limit it, because there are dozens of Canadian superheroes.  We had a wealth of characters, and a wealth of writers and artists to profile, and there was just no way that we could do it in a two hour film.  So we had to scale it back, and we had to make some tough choices.

Sam:  So what did you keep, and how did you make the choice to include them?

Captain Canuck, one of Canada’s most prolific super hero creations of the 70′s, is covered in “Lost Heroes.” Dixon of the Mounted, on the other hand, is not: “We…stuck to our guns and made it very exclusive to just superheroes.  We didn’t do Dixon of the Mounted because he wasn’t a superhero in a traditional sense.  He was more of a traditional cowboy RCMP type guy.  He was a really good police officer and not heroic in the sense that he had powers, or wore a cape, or had a secret identity or anything like that.”

Will:  We wanted to certainly hit on the characters that if you had any knowledge of Canadian superhero/comic book history that you would have heard of.  Captain Canuck was an obvious choice.  Nelvana of the Northern Lights was an absolute, because she was arguably the world’s first female super heroine.  We felt that had to do Alpha Flight and Wolverine, because people who didn’t specifically know about Canadian super heroes would kind of have an inkling that Wolverine was from somewhere up in Canada.  I was adamant that I wanted to profile today’s artists and the next generation of up and coming artists who might create the next great Canadian superhero.  That became the last third of the film.  Then we had all these issues and debates amongst ourselves as if we should get into regional superheroes, like Captain Newfoundland, or is that to meniscal and should we stick to characters that are more national in nature.  So we had many many discussions about this.  The real tough thing was to limit the 1940’s Canadian superheroes because there was so many of them.  There were five years of Canadian publishing goodness that there was just a wealth of characters.  We couldn’t track down some of the creators or their descendants, and we couldn’t get pictures of them, and we really wanted to be able to profile the character and creator.  We also stuck to our guns and made it very exclusive to just superheroes.  We didn’t do Dixon of the Mounted because he wasn’t a superhero in a traditional sense.  He was more of a traditional cowboy RCMP type guy.  He was a really good police officer and not heroic in the sense that he had powers, or wore a cape, or had a secret identity or anything like that.   Some of the footage and the characters that we didn’t use are going to be put on the Lost Heroes web-site because they were part of the movie at one time.  It’s not like we just like we slapped something together for the web-site.  They’ll be nice little elegant pieces form the film.

Sam:  Is the Canadian comic industry something you had a personal interest in, or was this documentary an assignment for you?

“The story of the Canadian Whites, and why they were created, and how Canada had this golden age of Canadian superheroes that nobody knew about today is fascinating. I realized it was a story that people should hear and see.”

Will:  I had a personal interest in it.  While researching something else I came across something on Google about Canadian comic books superheroes.  I clicked on it and two hours later I came out of this vortex of really interesting stuff.  I realized that it was a fascinating story.  The story of the Canadian Whites, and why they were created, and how Canada had this golden age of Canadian superheroes that nobody knew about today is fascinating.  I realized it was a story that people should hear and see.  So I talked to Tony and I pitched it to him.  He thought it sounded cool and that people would want to see it, so I said “How do we do this.”  He said “Walk into Super Channel and see if they think the same thing.”  So we did and they liked it.  Super Channel is our conditioning broadcaster, and we were lucky enough to get the Rogers Documentary fund to help us to complete the financing.

Sam:  The popularity and value of the Canadian Whites have increased a lot in the last couple of years.  There seems to be a revived interest and a cult following for these books and characters.

” I hope that maybe our film will bring more people into the discussion of the Canadian comics and their creators because there were a lot of talented people involved in (this industr) and I think it’s a shame that it’s been lost. I hope this film opens people’s eyes and makes them think back at our own pop culture history.”

Will:  You’re absolutely right.  One of the disappointing things is that it is only a Canadian based resurgence. When we were at the San Diego Comic Con we kept going around to various booths selling comics and we’d ask “Do you have any Canadian comics” and they’d look at us with these blank looks.  The collectors market for these 1940’s characters is, for the most part, very Canadian.  We did find a few collectors in the United States and Europe who helped us find certain issues that were in their collections.  It was kind of cool in that respect that we were able to reach the majority of collectors who were willing to help us out fill in holes that the National Archives didn’t have.  The National Archives primarily has a lot of the Bell Features Comics, but some of the other publishing companies they didn’t have.   I hope that maybe our film will bring more people into the discussion of the Canadian comics and their creators because there were a lot of talented people involved in [this industry] and I think it’s a shame that it’s been lost.  I hope this film opens people’s eyes and makes them think back at our own pop culture history.

Sam:  The Canadian comic industry in the 1940’s was massive, but the books are so rarely seen today.  How do you account for the rarity of the Canadian Whites?

Will:  This comes out in the movie.  Back then comics were like currency for kids and they traded them.  One kid would take a Freelance for a Johnny Canuck and then that kid would trade that Freelance to someone else.  So they really got used and abused and horded by kids.  So a lot of them didn’t survive intact over the last seventy years, and certainly not an entire collection.

Montreal based artist Jack Tremblay, who at sixteen created Crash Carson for Bell Features, is one of the last surviving of the Canadian Whites creators and is featured in “Lost Heroes”: “Twenty years from now we won’t be able to do an interview like that because all the people from that era will be lost to us.  It’s kind of nice that we were able to catch him and get him in the film.”

Sam:  Where you able to track down any of the people who worked on the Canadian whites?

Will:  Yes.  We were able to talk to Jack Tremblay, who is one of the last surviving Whites guys and who lives in Montreal.  We spent a couple of hours with him and he just had one story after another.  He was fifteen or sixteen when he started drawing comics for Bell Features.  He lived in Montreal, so he would just mail his pages in and then they would telegraph him a check a week later.  But because he was sixteen he didn’t have a bank account, so he would sign it over to his parents because he was still living at home.  When we knew we were able to get a guy from that era that was willing to talk to us it was one of those great moments, because here was a guy who was one of the people who started this great thing.  One of the guys who drew one of the first Canadian comic books.  That was really exciting for me to sit down with him.

Sam:  Was he surprised that there were still people that were interested in his career as a comic artist, and that you were there talking to him?

The contest in which Jack Tremblay got his start in comics…and won a pair of roller skates: “Bell Features asked him “Do you have anything else” and he said “Yes. I have this little thing I’ve been doing called Crash Carson.” So they told him to send it in and they published it. He became this little legend in the neighborhood and the school yard because all of a sudden people were buying comics that had his name in it.”

Will:  Yes he was.  We had managed to get a copy of his very first issue.  We did an interview with his son, Rick Tremblay, who is also a Montreal artist, and we put them on camera at the same time.  Well Rick held up the comic and Jack said “Oh my goodness.  I haven’t seen that in decades.”  He got his start where they had this contest in the comic where they said “Draw the last panel in this comic and you can wear a pair of roller skates.”  So he drew the last panel of the story, mailed it in, he won the roller skates, and in the next issue they had the list of who one it and the runners up.  So back in those days they’d put his name and full address in the comic, which you’d never do nowadays.  So Bell Features asked him “Do you have anything else” and he said “Yes.  I have this little thing I’ve been doing called Crash Carson.”  So they told him to send it in and they published it.  He became this little legend in the neighborhood and the school yard because all of a sudden people were buying comics that had his name in it.  He’d get a lot of pressure from kids saying “What’s coming next” and he’d say “I don’t know.  I haven’t drawn it yet.”  Twenty years from now we won’t be able to do an interview like that because all the people from that era will be lost to us.  It’s kind of nice that we were able to catch him and get him in the film.

Sam:  Will there be a DVD release of the film?

Marvel’s Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight included characters such as The Vindicator, Sasquatch, Puck and, the series break out character Northstar, who has become Marvel’s premier gay character and is currently a member of The X-Men: “What is it that makes a Canadian Superhero? John Byrne created Alpha Flight, but he doesn’t consider himself Canadian anymore. We tried to interview him but he shot us down because he doesn’t identify himself with being Canadian. Harlan Ellison has a huge collection of Canadian Whites. He’s not Canadian, but he has this huge collection in Los Angeles. It’s strange.”

Will:  We have had a lot of people asking that on our facebook page.  Yes, there will be a DVD release.  We’re not sure when but it should be within the year.  It premiers on March 3rd on Super Channel, and we’ll be doing little screenings across the country.  Groups have asked to screen the film at a local theater, or at a festival.  Because of when we completed the film we were too late to submit it to the Toronto film festival, and other film festivals, which take place in the fall.  We weren’t able to do the traditional launch at TIFF, so now our mindset is just to get the film out to as many people as we can, because we’ve been making this film for three years and people have waiting for it.

Sam:  Yeah.  There is a big buzz about Lost Heroes and there has been for a while.  It’s something that you hear about if you are connected at all to Canadian comic book fandom.  How have you been able to maintain that buzz?

Will:  I don’t think we did anything.  It’s just a product of the fans that are into comics and into Canadian pop culture.  They’ve created the buzz themselves and they want to see the film.  I think part of it has also been from the collectors who scanned stuff for us and they want to see the film.  If there is a buzz it’s kind of almost in house from the people who helped us out, encouraged us and have cheered us on.  We don’t have a publicist that has been going to shows and conventions and doing stuff on our behalf, so any buzz is totally generated by the community itself, which is really gratifying to know that it’s not a product of manufactured PR but from a genuine interest from people who want to see the film.

Despite “Fighting for Truth, Justice and The American Way,” many Canadians have tried to adopt Superman as being a Canadian creation due to co-creator Joe Shuster being born in Canada. Superman has even appeared on Canadian stamps and coins due to the connection. But does that make him a Canadian superhero?: “One of the things that comes out in the film as well is that, potentially, one of the reasons that Canadian superheroes have struggled to maintain an audience is because, as a nation, we are not a very violent in your face people…Superheroes, by their very nature, solve things by punching and not by diplomacy.  So to create a superhero you have to be a little bit “punch first, talk later” and that’s just not in our national psyche.”

Sam:  What do you think of Canada’s continuous attempt to adopt Superman as a “Canadian superhero” because Joe Schuster was from Canada?  I’ve always found Superman to be distinctly American.  It’d be like trying to claim Doctor Who as a Canadian creation because his creator, Sydney Newman, was from Toronto but there is little doubt that Doctor Who is British.  What are your feelings about this?

Will:  That’s one of the things that we wrestled with when making this film.  What is it that makes a Canadian Superhero?  John Byrne created Alpha Flight, but he doesn’t consider himself Canadian anymore.  We tried to interview him but he shot us down because he doesn’t identify himself with being Canadian.  Harlan Ellison has a huge collection of Canadian Whites.  He’s not Canadian, but he has this huge collection in Los Angeles.  It’s strange.  The Northern Light, created by James Whaley and Jim Craig just before Captain Canuck, was originally a rejected He-Man storyline.  Does that mean that he is less Canadian because he was based on a rejected story for an American character?  So it’s a really tough question because what does it mean to be a Canadian?  When do you put the flag on yourself?  I don’t know.  A lot of these guys from the 1940s went down to the States and worked on Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman.  Does that make them less Canadian because they spent the majority of their career working on American comics and the Canadian characters disappeared?  I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer for that question because it’s one of the things, as a country, we struggle with.  What does it mean to be Canadian?  Does that mean that we are just different from Americans?  Do we define ourselves by our differences?  Are we only Canadian when we can compare and contrast it from someone else?  I think most people would be hard pressed about what makes them Canadian without, in a negative way, contrasting them from the US.  One of the things that comes out in the film as well is that, potentially, one of the reasons that Canadian superheroes have struggled to maintain an audience is because, as a nation, we are not a very violent in your face people.

Sam:  You’re right.  That is very interesting.

Will:  Superheroes, by their very nature, solve things by punching and not by diplomacy.  So to create a superhero you have to be a little bit “punch first, talk later” and that’s just not in our national psyche.

Sam:  Who is your favorite Canadian character?  Did a certain character become special to you?

Originally created as a “throw away character” by Len Wein, Wolverine has become one of the most important comic book characters in the history of the medium. “Most people outside of Canada wouldn’t necessarily think that Wolverine is Canadian.  There is this misconception amongst people who think he’s from Alaska.”

Will:  It’s tough.  I love Wolverine.  He’s just a fascinating character with that berserker rage and that darkness that hovers around him.

Sam:  I read once that Marvel didn’t expect much from Wolverine when they first created him and he was sort of a throw away character.  If they knew he was going to be so popular they’d have probably never made him a Canadian.

Will:  Well most people outside of Canada wouldn’t necessarily think that Wolverine is Canadian.  There is this misconception amongst people who think he’s from Alaska.  A lot of people kind of think that first.  I’m also partial to Nelvana because I think it’s cool that Canada had the first female super hero, and that she’s from the North and is very Canadian in that aspect – with the ice and the land and being a part of the Inuit culture.  That was bold for the 1940’s because even in America you didn’t see them embracing Native American characters.  The fact that we created one from the north that was part Inuit and tied to the Northern Lights was very smart.  I’m also partial to Captain Canuck because he was the one who broke through in the 70’s and became an iconic thing for a lot of people.  Those three are exciting for me, but it’s hard to pick one.  It changes every month.

Lost Heroes premiers on Monday March 3rd on.  For more information on the film, and to join the discussion of Canada’s comic book industry, find Lost Heroes on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LostHeroesMovie and follow Lost Heroes on twitter at @LostHeroesMovie.  A fascinating time in Canadian pop culture, make sure to check this film out and stay tuned to PCA for more information about the upcoming DVD release.  No matter what country you are from, the history of Canada’s comic industry is a fascinating story waiting to be discovered by comic fans everywhere.

Brooklyn, NY based band St. Lucia have been creating one of the biggest musical buzzes this winter. The brain child of front man Jean-Philip Grobler, St. Lucia includes Nick Brown, Ross Clark, Nicky Paul and Patricia Beranek.

Since the release of their debut album, When the Night, in October 2013, Brooklyn based synth-pop band St. Lucia seems to be suddenly everywhere.  Sexy, sophisticated and smart, the album has been a much needed relief from what has proved to be one of the worst winters in North America in decades, by creating images of tropical islands and sandy beaches in a retro flavored high energy clash of sounds.  Following on the footsteps of Art of Noise, Fatboy Slim and Daft Punk, St. Lucia has created one of the biggest buzzes so far this year.   In fact, when announcing their first headlining North American tour in January 2013, tickets sold out in minutes in a number major cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston and Washington DC, prompting the band to add a number of extra shows in each city.  Deemed one of the “most exciting bands” by Teen Vouge and receiving glowing reviews in Esquire, Interview and Ladygunn Magazine, St. Lucia made their television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live in January.  St. Lucia is slowly seducing North America with their unique brand of synth pop.

Released in the fall of 2013, St. Lucia’s debut album, “When the Night,” has been getting strong support by multiple sources, including “Teen Vogue” and “Interview Magazine.”

The brainchild of South African born musician Jean-Philip Grobler, St. Lucia combines the talents of Nick Brown, Ross Clark, Nicky Paul and Patricia Beranek who have succeeded in reproducing Grobler’s intricate musical vision into a live performance band.  Originally from Johannesburg, Grobler began his musical training with the Drakensberg Boys Choir School where he studied classical music and opera.  However, according to Grobler, it was the discovery of Radiohead which opened up a whole new world of music to him, which has accumulated into the creation of St. Lucia.

A distinctly personal project, Grobler has looked to the music of the 1980’s for inspiration in creating a sound distinctly modern, but harnessing the excitement of a different era. The chemistry has proved successful, making St. Lucia one of the most interesting bands on the musical radar today.  I had the opportunity to talk to Grobler about his music, the new album, and St. Lucia only days before he was to leave on their first headlining tour.

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Jean-Phillip Grobler studied classical music at Drakensberg Boys Choir School before getting turned on to electronic music in his teens: “My writing process is very train of thought.  I’ll generally be doing something that’s completely unrelated to music, like walking down the street or being a bookshop or a museum and I’ll catch myself singing a melody, or having a melody in my head.  Then I’ll realize that I don’t recognize that melody and that I’ve never heard it before, and then I know that it’s a song idea.”

Sam Tweedle:  There is a lot of people writing about When the Night and you’ve created quite a buzz.  How does it feel to have all this positive support behind you?

Jean-Philip Grobler:  It’s kind of like a dream.  It’s pretty amazing.

Sam:  How did you come up with the name St. Lucia?  What is the connect for you with that place?

Jean:  I came to this point where it started becoming clear what the ethetic of St. Lucia was.  I had quit my job as a jingle writer, that I had been doing for a few years, and I started my own studio and I was just doing stuff in there in my spare time and coming up with ideas.  Some of them were totally not St. Lucia like.  They were kind of like Spaghetti Western things, and others were more rock.  But most of the ideas I was coming up with were this kind of tropical influenced, 80’s influenced sound with a very nostalgic element to them.  When I was trying to come up with a name I was finding it difficult, so one day I took out a map of South Africa and I closed my eyes, took out a pen, put the pen on the map and the first try it was St. Lucia.  St. Lucia is part of South Africa, but is also an Island in the Caribbean.  What seemed right to me was that St. Lucia is kind of a beach town, and a nature reserve, and I’d go on vacation there with my parents as a child.  Everything about that place represented exactly what I wanted the music to be about.    Having this escapist quality of being on vacation, and a romantic idea of what could happen on holidays.  Just everything about what that place represents to me is what the music represents.

“St. Lucia is kind of a beach town, and a nature reserve, and I’d go on vacation there with my parents as a child. Everything about that place represented exactly what I wanted the music to be about. Having this escapist quality of being on vacation, and a romantic idea of what could happen on holidays. Just everything about what that place represents to me is what the music represents.”

Sam:  When the Night is your debut full length album, correct?

Jean:  Yes it is.

Sam:  How long have you been working on it?

Jean:  From start to finish, from the first song that I ever came up with as St. Lucia to now, it’s been about five years.  The first song that I identified as a St. Lucia song probably was written about five years ago.  So it’s been about five years, on and off.

Sam:  What is your creative process in creating music?

Jean:  My writing process is very train of thought.  I’ll generally be doing something that’s completely unrelated to music, like walking down the street or being a bookshop or a museum and I’ll catch myself singing a melody, or having a melody in my head.  Then I’ll realize that I don’t recognize that melody and that I’ve never heard it before, and then I know that it’s a song idea.  Generally I’ll record it into my voice recorder on my phone.  I’ll record the beat, and sing the melody and then sing the bass line, and when I have time I’ll work on that melody on my laptop.  I’ll just go with that.  I’ll leave it for a while, and go back to it, and then over a couple of years I’ll finish it.

Sam:  So some of these songs could take a couple of years before you complete them.

Jean:  It could be.  Yeah.  Between starting and finishing.  Closer Than This took about two and half years to finish.

“(Listening to Radiohead) was the first time that I could realize that music could have a cerebral quality to it. It could tickle your brain instead of just your emotions.”

Sam:  That makes sense, because while listening to your tracks I notice how well composed and intricate the compositions actually are.  This is not music that is just being churned out of a cookie cutter factory, which seems to be true about a lot of the music in today’s industry.

Jean: (Laughs)  I appreciate that, man.

Sam:  A number of sources mentions that your discovery of Radiohead as a teenager had a big influence on you.  I can see the connection when listening to the album.

“There has never been a time period in music that I’ve thought was terrible. I’ve always been into something at the time. I think the last ten years have been amazing for music.”

Jean:  Yeah.  It’s kind of a funny story.  I was about thirteen or fourteen, and I was studying music at an all-boys private school in South Africa.  Well my parents were looking for a Christmas present for me, and they were eating at a restaurant and they thought the guy that was serving them looked cool.  So they asked him “What’s a good album that we can buy for our son?”  The guy said “Oh, you’ve got to get him OK Computer by Radiohead.  This is THE album right now.”  So they bought it for me, and I came home from school, and it was Christmas weekend and I listened to it all the way through and I hated it.  I thought Radiohead was the worst band I had ever heard.  It was just all so random and I didn’t understand it and I really just wanted to return it.  But everything was closed because it was Christmas weekend, so I was forced to live with that album for an entire weekend.  Well I forced myself to listen to it a few more times because I had nothing else to do, and on my fourth or fifth listen it just started to make sense to me for whatever reason, and that started my love affair with Radiohead.  I went back to The Bends and even Pablo Honey and I became an avid fan of Radiohead.  I’d listen to OK Computer at least five times per week for the next year, and I knew everything about it.  I think what spoke to me about Radiohead was how beautiful there music was in general.  There were so many beautiful melodies, but then you could hear them pushing the envelope on so many different levels with their arrangements and the way it was produced.  They were a really big influence on me.

Sam:  Was the discovery of Radiohead a turning point in your musical journey?

“I think what I really liked about the 80’s, compared to what’s going on now, was that in the 80’s there was a feeling that there was no roof to the music industry. The way that artists were making music was like they were constantly on cocaine or something. There was this feeling that they were invisible and that there was no limits to what they could do.”

Jean:  Absolutely.  That was the first time that I could realize that music could have a cerebral quality to it.  It could tickle your brain instead of just your emotions.  Before that I wasn’t really listening to much rock music.  I was listening to more pop music.  I was really into Bon Jovi, for example.  Radiohead was the band that was the huge turning point for me.

Sam:  When the Night has a very mid 80’s to early 90’s vibe to it.  Does that era appeal to you?

Jean:  Well, the thing is that there has never been a time period in music that I’ve thought was terrible.  I’ve always been into something at the time.  I think the last ten years have been amazing for music.  I think what I really liked about the 80’s, compared to what’s going on now, was that in the 80’s there was a feeling that there was no roof to the music industry.  The way that artists were making music was like they were constantly on cocaine or something.  There was this feeling that they were invisible and that there was no limits to what they could do.  That just showed up in how bombastic and massive the music sounded.  Everything was made to make everything sound as massive as possible, at least in pop music.  You can hear in the last ten years that music became a lot more insular and introverted and small sounded.  People wanted to make things sound more fucked up and crazy.  I’ve been a big fan of that kind of music as well, but there just came a point where everything was just that.  It just felt unnatural for me to follow that path, and I just started to go back to the 80’s music that influenced me and how that was the exact opposite of what’s been going on in music.  I think that really influenced me, and felt really fresh.

Sam:  You just finished a tour of the US and sold out instantly in some huge markets.  Were you expecting a sell out like that?

Venues sold out in minutes in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC and Chicago for St. Lucia’s first headlining tour in January 2014: “We came into this tour conservatively when we were setting it up and we have never done a headlining tour like this across the States, so we had no idea what to expect.”

Jean:  Absolutely not.  We came into this tour conservatively when we were setting it up and we have never done a headlining tour like this across the States, so we had no idea what to expect.  We were very fortunate that we had played some of these markets supporting other bands, like Ellie Goulding and Three Door Cinema Club, but we had no idea what the pickup would be and it completely blew us away.  It took us by surprise.

Sam:  What is your follow up from the tour and album?

Jean: I’m constantly writing and there are some new ideas that I am working on in the tour van when we are driving and I’m look out the window and staring.  I can only take things to a certain point when I’m in the van.  I’m hoping to get into the studio after the tour is done and we’ll see how that goes.  Its whatever comes our way.

Creating music that can warm up the coldest winter, St. Lucia is on fire right now.  There is no doubt that there is more that will be coming our way.  For more info on St. Lucia check out their web-site at http://stlucianewyork.com/#/home.

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How I first fell in love with Cynthia Pepper – as “Margie” on the lid of a board game box.

I first noticed Cynthia Pepper in an antique store when I caught her gaze from the lid of a dusty old board game box. Margie: The Game of Whoopee was one of those games based on television shows, which were popular for decades before the advent of video games. Despite being over 50 years old it still had all its pieces, and was in virtually brand new condition. Thing was, while I have an encyclopedic mind for vintage television, I had never heard of a TV show called Margie. But, man, those eyes captivated me, and the braids were adorable. Something about the girl on the box just made me want it, and despite the fact that I don’t even play board games, I couldn’t resist: I laid down my $20 for the game. After a few Google searches and a visit each to IMDB and YouTube, I discovered one of the most charming television shows I had never heard of.  Now, with my claws hooked into something that I never knew about before, I was already on the internet tracking down all the episodes and information I could on Margie.  It wouldn’t be long before my paths crossed with the real life Cynthia Pepper.

Actress Cynthia Pepper hit the pop culture radar in the early 60′s in “girl next door” roles on “My Three Sons” and “Margie.”

Although Margie may have been the series that drew me to notice Cynthia Pepper, I had already seen her before without even realizing it. A true Hollywood kid, Cynthia Pepper was the daughter of entertainer Jack Pepper.  Studying acting, dance, and voice as a child, Cynthia didn’t go the route of most child actors, but started to gravitate toward show business at age 19, when she graduated from the infamous Hollywood High. She made early appearances on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, 77 Sunset Strip, and Thriller, but it was being cast in a semi-regular role as Mike Douglas’ first girlfriend, Jean Pearson, on My Three Sons which got her noticed on the pop culture radar.  With wholesome good looks and a fresh face, the 20 year old actress could easily pass for 16, and she was perfect for “the girl next door.” Her performances won over audiences and television executives alike, and the following year ABC developed Margie just for her, to be aired right after My Three Sons.  Airing for a single season, 1961-62, Cynthia Pepper starred in Margie, a situation comedy about teenagers living in the 1920s.  It was what to the early 60s what Happy Days was to the 70s and That 70s Show was to the 90s: a light-hearted celebration of a previous generation through laughter and a charming cast.  But at the center of it was Cynthia Pepper, who was equally adorable and delicious.  Yet, despite the network giving Margie a prime time slot and putting effort into marketing (including producing paper dolls, comic book and, of course, a board game), Margie just didn’t take off. Despite being a terrific show, it faded into the abyss of cancelled shows of television past.

The role of army secretary Midge Riley opposite a blonde Elvis Presely in “Kissin’ Cousins” would seal Cynthia Pepper’s place in pop culture, and especially Elvis fandom.

But, after Margie’s cancellation, Cynthia Pepper remained a favorite of casting directors.  Besides making appearances on shows such as The Addams Family, Wagon Train, Perry Mason, and The Flying Nun, Cynthia graduated to film, beginning with a small role in the Jimmy Stewart/Tuesday Weld comedy Take Her, She’s Mine, where she played Weld’s roommate, Adele.  But it was her next film, Kissin’ Cousins, which would forever change her life.  After her role in this Appalachian musical comedy starring Elvis Presley, Cynthia Pepper would become immortalized in pop culture as an Elvis girl.  One of Elvis’ strangest films, the King played dual roles: as military officer Josh Morgan, and his own look-alike hillbilly cousin, Jodie Tatum. Elvis even had to undergo a blonde dye job so that the audience could decipher between the two Elvises.  While dark-haired military Elvis romanced hillbilly bumpkin Yvonne Craig, hillbilly blonde Elvis wooed army secretary Cynthia Pepper.  Although it was one of Elvis’ silliest films, Kissin’ Cousins has become one of his most popular movies amongst his legion of fans, securing Cynthia Pepper’s spot as part of Elvis fan culture.

After a few failed pilots and a scattering of television credits, Cynthia Pepper disappeared from the pop culture radar by the early 70s, but the continuing interest in everything Elvis has made her a fixture at Elvis festivals and fan gatherings, and her pop culture appeal has made her a popular guest at autograph shows.  Within a matter of weeks after finding her in that antique store, I was easily able to track down the real Cynthia Pepper, who graciously talked to me about Elvis, Margie, and her short, yet eventful career as one of pop culture’s “girls next door.”

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After a decade, Los Angeles based power pop legends Gameface, featuring Jeff Caudill, Todd D. Trout, Guy Julian and Steve Sanderson, is back with a new single and an upcoming studio album.

Rock n’ roll dreams often only comes once.  Gameface is getting a second one.

One of California’s legendary power-pop bands, Los Angeles’ Gameface amassed a legion of fans during the 1990’s, in which they released a string of albums and became a regional favorite.  One of the rawest bands during an era where rock was no longer the king of the airwaves, Gameface gained the reputation as a hard working band of up and coming young musicians.  However, after a decade of obtaining a cult status, but failing at gaining nationwide success, the band began to grow apart and lose their focus.  In 2003 the group decided to call it quits and go their separate ways.  Gameface was over…but not forgotten.  While the members of Gameface continued to play music, the group was remembered fondly by people that saw them when they were growing up, Gameface managed to inspire others to go into the music industry themselves, and continued to be part of California’s rock evolution.

Gameface’s first single in over a decade, “Come on Down” was released in November 2013.

In 2012, after ten years of little communication, Jeff Caudill, Todd D. Trout, Guy Julian and Steve Sanderson tediously reunited for a series of concerts celebrating the anniversary of their former label only to find that the magic was still there.  The reunion concerts lead to new music and a new energy as the guys; older, wiser and refocused, decided that perhaps it was time for Gameface to return to the playing field.

The result is a brand new single, Come on Down, which was released in November 2013, and a brand new studio album, Now Is What Matters Now,  scheduled to be released on March 18th!  With good old fashioned rock n’ roll hurting more today than it did in the 90’s, the return of Gameface couldn’t come at a better time.

Gameface’s sixth studio album, “Now is What Matters Now” is scheduled to be released March 18th via Equal Vision Records.

I connected with Gameface lead singer Jeff Caudill to talk about the return of Gameface.  For the last decade Caudill has continued to actively pursue music via a series of solo projects, as well as being one of the primary players in Your Favorite Trainwreck.  However, it is obvious when talking with Jeff that Gameface is a very important part of his musical journey, and he is passionate about the band’s second coming.

Sam Tweedle:  So Gameface has gotten back together.  This has been a bit of a surprise to a lot of music fans.  Is it a surprise to you?

Gameface lead singer Jeff Caudill/

Jeff Caudill:  It was surprising when it did happen.  Last summer we were asked to do a couple of reunion shows for our old record label, Revelation Records.  They were doing their twenty fifth anniversary and we decided that that was a good enough excuse to give it a shot.  So we did the shows, but we didn’t expect it to be a full on reunion or to get back together.  We thought we’d get together for the shows and have a good time.  The thing is, it went really great.  As people, and as bandmates, we didn’t go back to where we left off but we went back to when it was actually fun.  I sort of pretended that it wasn’t happening for a while, but the more we were together and the more we were playing, I couldn’t help but start writing new material.  We kept it really quiet, because we didn’t really want to admit this was going on.  We wanted to do some songs, and make sure that it wasn’t just happening in our heads.  So, after a few songs, we felt that it really was a viable thing and that we weren’t just dreaming it and we decided that we’d go for it.  So now we have an album worth of material, we have a label and we have a new single.  It’s the whole thing.

Sam:  What label have you signed with?

Early Gameface publicity photos circe 1993: “It was my youth. My coming of age. (Gameface) means a lot to me.”

Jeff:  The record label we signed with is Equal Vision.  They’re awesome.  They get it.  They kind of understand where we’re at.  I couldn’t have dreamt it any more perfect.  Up till now it’s been really fantastic and has been how I’d hope it would be.

Sam:  Now take me through the history of Gameface.  You guys originally formed while you were still teenagers.

Jeff:  Yeah.  This was right out of high school.  I kind of discovered punk rock in the late 80’s and I met the other guys when I was going to these punk shows around ’87 and ’88.  This was the beginning of my entire music thing.  I was in some really terrible bands in high school, but [Gameface] was the first real thing where we wrote our own stuff, we got in the van and toured and we put out records.  That lasted from 1990 to 2003.

Sam:  So you guys were together for over a decade.

Jeff:  Yeah.  It was my youth.  My coming of age.  [Gameface] means a lot to me.  Having it sort of implode in 2003 was sad, but it felt like something that needed to happen.  We felt like we needed to walk away.

Sam:  What were some of the circumstances of Gameface’s original break up?

“We didn’t talk for a while, but it’s not like we were angry with each other. We just didn’t have anything to say. We went for many years without talking at all.”

Jeff:  At that point, we had grown up together and had grown apart on all levels; musically and as people.  We did all we could do to stay together.  It wasn’t that we couldn’t stand each other, but no one could agree about what role the band would play in their lives.  There were some guys that wanted to make a career out of it, and there were some that wanted it to be just a hobby.  We just didn’t agree on what the band was, and we were really dysfunctional and never wanted to talk about it, so there was this big silence and it really did just implode right before we released our final album.  It was messy, and we didn’t talk for a while, but it’s not like we were angry with each other.  We just didn’t have anything to say.  We went for many years without talking at all. But we talked about [getting back together] about four or five years ago.  We all got together and talked about stuff with the intention of hanging out.  But ten years is enough distance for all the water to be under the bridge.  All of the reasons that we broke up don’t really exist anymore.  We are doing it now for the love of our band, and the love of our music.  It’s really kind of liberating to not really care about trying to make it, or trying to figure out what’s cool in the music scene, because none of that has anything to do with us anymore as forty years olds.  It’s a second chance of making it right.  As long as we can keep our heads all clear and just focus on the reason we wanted to do the band in the first place, it’s going to be great.

Sam:  When you guys get back together did you gel immediately again as a band, or did it take time to ease into it?

“As people, and as bandmates, we didn’t go back to where we left off but we went back to when it was actually fun.”

Jeff:  It was pretty quick.  It came back really fast.  I was amazed how good things sounded and felt.  We pretty much played an entire album within the first couple of [rehearsals].  We did the Every Last Time album from front to back.  I’m sure that everybody did their homework leading up to the first rehearsal, but we pretty much knocked it out.  It was good.  That was the thing that made it, for me, to make that switch turn on.  We sounded as good, or better, than we’d ever had.  It was exciting.

Sam:  But you guys are older and your musical tastes have obviously changed.  Have you seen an evolution in Gameface?

Jeff:  We didn’t plan on it sounding a certain way.  We didn’t plan on trying to update our sound, but we didn’t want to sound like we did in 1995.  But, I think what happens when the four of us get together is that we just sound like we sound.  There is no other way to describe it.  It just sounds like Gameface made another record right after their last one.  It just feels good and comfortable and it’s still exciting.

Sam:  What were the other guys in Gameface doing over the last ten years?  Were they involved in music as well?

” I hope that we can get it to a new generation of kids who have an appreciation for this kind of music. There are a lot of kids out there that are looking to bands that were influenced by bands like us. I hope the younger generation get this record so they can see where their bands came from.”

Jeff:  Yeah.  They had a couple of other bands.  Our drummer toured with some bands, and one of them was signed with a major label.  There were little different incarnations of the rest of the guys.  At one time the three of them formed a band with a different singer, doing similar music.  It’s not as scandalous as it sounds, but they were definitely doing their thing.  We all loved playing music.

Sam:  I know Gameface had a solid fan following in the 90’s.  What kind of buzz has been happening now that you’ve reunited?

“I had to kind of decompartementalize everything. At least until the record is done it’s all about Gameface, and once the album hits this spring, it’s going to be even more about Gameface.”

Jeff:  It’s really hard to say.  There is certainly a really good core of fans that have been there the whole time, even when we were gone, who I know are really excited, and that feels awesome.  When we did the reunion shows the response was really great.  It wasn’t insane, but it was how we hoped it would be.  But we are hoping to reach a little further with the new record.  At the very least get it to the old fans, but I hope that we can get it to a new generation of kids who have an appreciation for this kind of music.  There are a lot of kids out there that are looking to bands that were influenced by bands like us.  I hope the younger generation get this record so they can see where their bands came from.

Sam:  I find it interesting that a lot of the rock bands that are getting commercial success today sound very similar to what Gamface was doing twenty years ago.

Jeff:  There is definitely a resurgence of the 90’s post punk thing, and I think that’s great.  What goes around comes around.  Hopefully its good timing for us.

Sam:  Has all your other musical projects taken a back seat while you are doing this?

Jeff:  Yeah.  I had to kind of decompartementalize  everything.  At least until the record is done it’s all about Gameface, and once the album hits this spring, it’s going to be even more about Gameface.  When we finished our run of shows last year I pretty much started to write our new album, and I finished it around the end of the year last year.  It’s pretty much been tunnel vision on this album. I have a solo EP that’s been sitting around for a while and that I started recording, but that can wait.  I can finish that up some other time.

There is a world of kids out there today who don’t know what a real rock song sounds like.  This is the generation that needs Gameface more than ever.  For more information on Gameface visit their page at Equal Vision Records, http://www.equalvision.com/artist/Gameface, and for more on Jeff Caudill’s post-Gameface music check out his site at http://www.jeffcaudill.com/.

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In the late 80′s/early 90′s Pat Mastroianni, in the role of Joey Jeremiah, was the breakout star of “Degrassi Junior High, where he became the central character of the hit teen drama.

Probably no fictional character has had a bigger impact on my daily life than Degrassi Junior High’s Joey Jeremiah.  He is the real reason that I’ve been wearing fedoras for over twenty five years.  It’s true!  I remember that I was back to school shopping with my mother at the local Zellers store in 1988 for my first year of high school when I spied a blue felt fedora and told my Mom, “I want that hat!  I want to look like Joey Jeremiah.”  My mother responded, “You’ll never wear it.”

“Yes I will!  I’ll wear it for the rest of my life,” I pleaded.  My mother had a change of heart and she bought me the hat.  Over two decades later, the fedora has not only become synonymous with my identity, but it has gone far beyond a simple fashion accessory.  It is an extension of my soul, and it was all because of Joey Jeremiah and Degrassi Junior High.

Ironically, actor Pat Mastroianni, who played Joey Jeremiah in the legendary Canadian teen drama, which ran from 1987 to 1992, no longer wears fedoras.  However, his portrayal of Joey had a profound effect on an entire generation of Canadian teenagers that had nothing to do with their fashion sense.  Noteworthy for its hard hitting topics and staunch realism, Degrassi Junior High was ground-breaking television in the 1980’s and attracted a strong fan base not only in Canada, but around the world.  Dealing with topics such as teenaged pregnancy, AIDS, homosexuality, drugs, abortion, abuse and nearly every subject that American counterparts, such as Blossom and Saved by the Bell, were either afraid to touch or tried to drown out with laughter, the students of Degrassi became nationwide icons.  But despite the series’ ensemble cast, it was Pat Mastroianni who climbed his way to the top of the heap as the show’s standout star.  With equal parts confidence and vulnerability, Joey Jeremiah became the show’s central character.  Whether he was hanging out with Snake and Wheels, striking out with Caitlin Ryan, walking naked through the school cafeteria or trying to become a rock star with “The Zit Remedy”, Joey became the most important player on Degrassi with his own larger than life bravado.

Retiring Joey Jeremiah in 2006 after reviving the character for five seasons of “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” Pat Mastroianni continues to work as a character actor, and has just began appearing on the autograph show circuit, connecting with “Degrassi” fans from two different generations.

When Degrassi ended in 1992 with the controversial TV film “School’s Out”, Mastroianni put away the fedora and tried to graduate to other roles in film and television, but the shadow of Joey Jeremiah seemed to loom over him, resulting in years of struggle as he tried to break typecasting.  Rejecting his Degrassi fame for years, Joey eventually returned to the role, sans fedora, for a number of seasons of the Degrassi sequel, Degrassi: The Next Generation, where he not only had a chance to continue some of his own story lines, but also interact with the new generation of Degrassi kids in a parental role.  But in 2006, Matroianni finally retired Joey Jeremiah forever to finally focus on the next stage of his career.

In recent years, Pat Mastroinni has successfully broken away from the hold of Joey Jeremiah and has been seen on episodes of Rookie Blue, Saving Hope, The Listener, Cracked and Bitten; appeared in the direct to DVD, High School Musical sequel Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure featuring Ashley Tisdale, and is featured in the holiday film, A Very Larry Christmas.  Furthermore, in 2013, Mastroianni began making public appearances for the first time since his earliest days as Joey Jeremiah at Canadian comic book conventions.  Learning that he would be making an appearance at the Hammer Town Comic Convention in Hamilton, Ontario, I put on my fedora and made the three hour journey to meet one of my childhood icons, and to personally thank him for introducing me to the fedora.  One of the pop culture icons I have wanted to interview for years, meeting Pat Mastrionni was easily one of the most epic celebrity encounters of my entire career.

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REMEMBERS

DAVE MADDEN

1931 – 2014

In the role of Reuben Kincaid on “The Partridge Family,” comedian Dave Madden became the personification of everything a rock n’ roll manager should be.

After Colonel Tom Parker and Brian Epstein, Ruben Kincaid is easily the next most famous rock n’ roll manager of all time.  The fictional manager of the fictional music group The Partridge Family, Reuben was the easy natured, if not slightly hassled, man who made sure that widow Shirley Partridge and her musical offsprings got enough gigs to put food on the table on the legendary 70’s sit-com.  Behind the role was comedian Dave Madden, who was a little bit hip but a little bit square, and embodied what everybody wanted in a show business manager – reliable, honest, dependable and funny.  Too bad that managers like him just didn’t exist.  One of the most likeable faces on the pop culture journey, Dave Madden passed away this week at age 82.

Starting his career as a magician and a comedian as a teenager, Madden became a popular entertainer for the military when he was station in the Middle East with the air force before being discovered in a Beverly Hills night club by Frank Sinatra.

Born in Sarnia, Ontario, Dave Madden spent his early years in Port Huron, Michigan before being sent to live with an Aunt and Uncle at the age of eight after the death of his father.  It was when a serious bike accident forced him off his feet for months at the age of twelve that Madden took up the hobby of magic as a way to pass his time, which would become a staple of his act for years to come.  As he developed his craft as a magician, the naturally witty boy began to incorporate comedy into the act and before he graduated high school Madden had developed a stage show.   Choosing to study teaching after high school, Madden quickly realized that being an educator wasn’t his thing and he enlisted in the air force in 1951.  Enlisted in the Middle East, Madden continued to develop his act and became a popular entertainer at army camp shows and even performed his act for King Idis of Libya on one occasion.  Upon leaving the Air Force Madden went to Florida where he got a degree in communications for the University of Miami while shopping his act at Florida clubs on the side.

Although he could never have been called “cutting edge,” Dave Madden had a likeable persona which made him popular with television producers, and “the establishment” via his “every day man” comedy routines.

Yet despite early success as an entertainer for the armed forces, it took Madden a while to discover his audience as a civilian.  With anti-establishment comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin changing the face of comedy, Dave Madden wasn’t what anybody would call cutting edge.  For the most part he was still moderately conservative in terms of comedic subject matter.  With a pleasant face and mediocre looks, Madden’s act was based around good natured cynicism.  Never overtly negative, he picked apart the foibles of the every man.  The result was that he was very much a comedian for the “establishment.”  He wasn’t revolutionary, but as a result that made him perfect for television which still catered to an older generation.  After failing to make a hit in Florida, in 1963 Madden took a chance on Los Angeles where he got hired for a ten week engagement at a Beverly Hills nightclub.  His big break would come when Frank Sinatra walked in one night.  A guy who loved a good stand-up comedian but didn’t dig on the beatnik stuff, Sinatra went nuts over Madden and phoned in a favor to Ed Sullivan where he got Madden booked for four episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show.  Slotted between performances by Patti Page, Richard Burton, The Three Stooges, Edie Gorme, Cliff Richard, Chubby Checker, Barbra Streisand and Ann-Margret, Madden went from being a struggling comic to being seen by audiences coast to coast.  The exposure would lead to Madden getting work on commercials and eventually being cast in his first regular sit-com, Camp Runamuck.

Establishing himself as a popular Hollywood comedian in the 1960′s, Dave Madden was invited to join the cast of “Laugh-In” for the 1968/1969 season.

Premiering on NBC in the fall of 1965, Camp Runamuck focused on the wacky shenanigans of a boys summer camp, and the rival girls camp across the lake.  Madden was cast as wacky woman happy camp counselor Pruett.  However, pitted against The Flintstones and The Wild Wild West on the competing networks, Camp Runamuck didn’t have much of a chance and was cancelled after a single season where it disappeared into the mists of pop culture obscurity.  Thankfully for Madden, his career did not.  Staying alive with appearances on The Joey Bishop Show, The Hollywood Palace and The Merv Griffith Show, Madden also showed up on Love American Style and Bewitched.  Likeable and easy going, Madden became a favorite of television producers and in 1968 was called upon by Dick Martina and Dan Rowan to join the cast of one of pop culture’s most important and cutting edge sketch comedy shows of all time, Laugh-In.  After losing a number of cast members in the first season, Madden was invited to join future icons Lily Tomlin, Goldie Hawn, Artie Johnson and Flip Wilson on the show which united the establishment and the counter culture in one gigantic farce.  Madden appeared on Laugh-In for the 1968/1969 season where his good natured presence  was noticed by the producers of a brand family sit-com who were looking for a good natured establishment type who was just hip enough to be a rock n’ roll manager.  The show was The Partridge Family and Dave Madden was convinced to leave Laugh-In to take the role of Rueben Kincaid.  The result would be pop culture iconisim.

Dave Madden joined Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Susan Dey and Danny Bonaduche on “The Partridge Family” in 1969.

Making its debut in 1969, The Partridge Family was an instant hit.  With the star power of Shirley Jones, the beauty of Susan Dey and the face and voice of teen idol sensation David Cassidy, the show was not only intelligently plotted and written but managed to focus on many of the subjects that the generation of the late sixties were thinking about, such as runaways, the dismantling of the family unit and the draft, in a family friendly and light hearted manner.  The series was actually cool, and quite frankly, everything that The Brady Bunch wasn’t.  Furthermore, it was a massive cross marketing success with music being written by some of the best bubble-gum songwriters that Los Angeles had to offer.  Focusing on the show business travels of a fictional pop band made up of Shirley Partridge and her children, Shirley Jones played one of television’s first single Moms.  Offering her support from the sidelines was Dave Madden as friendly and honest, if not a little bit harried, Rueben Kincaid.

Although “The Partridge Family’s” marketing was focused on Shirley Jones and David Cassidy, Danny Bonaduche and Dave Madden made up the majority of the comedy as one of pop culture’s most unlikely comic duo. However, when the cameras stopped rolling, Madden continued to play the role of mentor and friend for the troubled Bonaduche.

But Madden’s role was not just as a male co-star and manager.  His role would become much more enhanced when he became consistently paired up by The Partridge Family’s true breakout star, Danny Bonaduche.  Together Madden and Bonaduche became one of pop culture’s most unlikely and underrated comedic duos.  While marketing focus was always given to Jones and Cassidy, from the beginning the writers began to focus plots primarily on serious younger brother Danny Partridge whose  business like mannerisms became the true comedy of the series.  Acting as the “new man of the house” in the absence of his off screen deceased Dad, Danny was constantly dreaming and scheming plots to help his family’s show business career.  In fact, the entire pilot episode was based around Danny trying to get Reuben Kincaid to listen to his family’s tape where an immediate on-screen chemistry was created between Bonaduche and Madden.  The pair were sort of on-screen rivals in a love/hate power struggle over the band.  Yet a second element came into play between the two characters with Rueben becoming a substitute father figure to Danny, and Danny looking up to Rueben as a mentor.  It would be one of television’s sweetest rivalries and would become the basis for the majority of the jokes on the Partridge Family throughout its four year run.  But when the cameras stopped rolling and everybody left the set, the special bond between Dave Madden and Danny Bonaduche continued.  When Madden discovered that Bonaduche was being physically abused by a tyrannical father, he took Danny home on the weekends to allow the boy to get away from his troubled home.  Years later, when Danny Bonaduche found himself in and out of rehab centers during a very public battle with substance abuse, Dave Madden was one of the few people form his show biz past who showed up to support him and help him back to a state of sobriety.  The chemistry that Madden and Bonaduche shared on stage seemed to seep over into their real lives and they became lifelong friends.

Dave Madden, with Linda Lavin, Vic Tayback and Beth Howland on “Alice.”  Madden would make thirty five appearances on the show in the role of high school basketball coach Earl Hicks between 1978 and 1984.

When The Partridge Family wrapped up production in 1974 Madden continued to hit the pop culture radar by appearing in a diverse range of television programs including Starskey and Hutch, Barney Miller, Happy Days, Fantasy Island and Sheriff Lobo before beginning a seven year semi-regular stint as high school basketball coach and Mel’s Diner customer Earl Hicks on the long running sit-com Alice in which he made thirty five appearances between 1978 and 1984.  He would continue to make appearances on various programs into the 80’s, but when The Partridge Family began to be rerun on MTV in the 1990’s a new generation began to associate Madden with Reuben Kincaid.  The result was Madden getting calls to do reprisals of his Reuben Kincaid character on modern sitcoms.  In 1992 Dave Madden reprised his role as Rueben Kincaid for the first time in over two decades for the pilot of The Ben Stilller Show, in 1994 he and Danny Bonaduche would show up as Reuben and Danny Partridge in an episode of Married with Children, and in 1995 he had one of his most unlikely crossovers when he showed up as Reuben attempting to court The Monkees in an episode of Boys Meets World.  Madden would make his final on-screen appearance in 1997 in an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch before retiring from acting.  Madden would stay underneath the public radar, although he participated in two episodes of A&E’s Biography focusing on The Partridge Family in 2003, and on Danny Bonaduche in 2006.

44Throughout the career Dave Madden seemed to stay on the sidelines.  He was never the star or the biggest presence on the set.  However,  he was familiar and lovable enough to find his way into our collective subconscious.  Funny, expressive, likeable and dependable, generations of kids with musical aspirations sought to find a man like Dave Madden to manage their musical projects.  Unfortunately, Reuben Kincaid wasn’t real, and music managers weren’t nearly as honest or hard working.  But it was fun to imagine that a man with Dave Madden’s face was just around the corner waiting to discover us.  Somewhere Dave Madden is out there giving a warm smile and an expressive eye roll to wanna be rockers and pop stars throughout the world.  He became the personification of the perfect music manager, and will be missed by everyone whose life he touched.

REMEMBERS

RUSSELL JOHNSON

1924 – 2014

 

“It used to make me upset to be typecast that way. But as the years have gone on, I have given in. I am the Professor, and that’s the way it is. [Gilligan’s Island] has brought a lot of joy to people, and that’s not a bad legacy” — Russell Johnson

 

Russell Johnson’s most famous character, The Professor, could make a nuclear radiator out of a pair of coconuts but couldn’t make a raft. But with the most male sex appeal on “Gilligan’s Island,” would you want to leave an island with Ginger and Mary Ann stranded on it?

The popular joke is that The Professor could have made a nuclear transmitter out of a pair of coconuts, but he couldn’t make a raft.  Well, if you were the most eligible bachelor stranded on an island with Ginger and Mary Ann and your only competition was an overweight sea captain and a dweeb, would you be in a hurry to get off the island?  Think about it for a moment.  Dressed in a pale blue shirt and khaki pants with sort of “rough and tumble” good looks, actor Russell Johnson was the only man with potential sex appeal on Gilligan’s Island.  However, wisely sticking to character, he never played the role that way and became the straight man on one of television’s greatest television programs.  Yet despite finding pop culture iconisim as Gilligan’s Island’s Professor, it overshadowed what was a successful film and television career.  In a career that lasted over five decades, Russell Johnson proved himself to be a dependable working actor, but the world would always remember and love him as The Professor.  Retired from acting since the 90’s, Russell Johnson has taken his final voyage and passed away this week at age 89.

Born in Ashley, Pennsylvania Russell Johnson got the acting bug when he was in high school.  However, upon graduating at age eighteen he entered the Air Force because, as he would say in interviews, “It was the patriotic thing to do.”  America was in the thick of the Second World War and Johnson was stationed in the South Pacific.  In March 1945 the bomber that Johnson was flying was shot down by the Japanese over the Philippines where he broke both of his ankles.  Surviving the ordeal he was awarded the Purple Heart.   After the War the newly created GI Bill allowed Johnson to get an education and he set his sights back on acting.

As a result of the GI Bill, following WWII Russell Johnson was able to study acting at The Actor’s Lab in Los Angeles where he was discovered and mentored by Paul Henried who cast him in his first feature film “For Men Only” and helped get him signed to Universal as a contract player.

Relocating to Los Angeles, Johnson entered The Actors Lab which was a West Coast off shoot of New York’s Actor Studio.  Training with some of the best dramatic coaches that LA had to offer, Johnson got his break in 1952 when actor Paul Henried came in looking for some young men for his latest drama For Men Only.   Directing and producing the project, Henried played a college professor who was investigating the suspicious death of a student who is revealed to have been victim to a deadly and cruel hazing initiation.  In the role of the campus bad boy and film’s main villain he cast Russell Johnson.  It may be hard to imagine Johnson as a villain now, but Johnson was very effective as a good looking bad kid.  This would lead to a number of roles for Johnson as “the bad guy” or “the heavy.”  Quickly bonding with Henried who took a fondness for Johnson and the other actors he chose from the school, Henried took the boys under his wing and became a sort of mentor and introduced them to various Hollywood contacts, which led Johnson to signing a contract with Universal.

In his earliest roles Russell Johnson played played villains and heavies in Universal Westerns where he rivaled many of Hollywood’s top stars including Ruck Hudson, Ronald Reagen and Audie Murphy.

Throughout his early career Russell Johnson played villains in primarily westerns where he threatened some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men including Ronald Reagan in Law and Order, Rock Hudson in Seminole, Robert Taylor in Many Rivers to Cross, Mel Ferrer in Rancho Notorious and, most notably, Audie Murphy in Column South, Tumbleweed and Ride Clear of Diablo.  Johnson also appeared as heavies in a few film noirs and crime dramas including Loan Shark and Black Tuesday.  He even found his way into one of the era’s most popular “sandal and sword” dramas, playing an uncredited gladiator, in Demetrius and the Gladiators, and had a small role in the star studded biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told where he played a scribe.

Russell Johnson in “It Came From Outer Space.” He would also appear in such sci-fi classics as “This Island Earth” and “Attack of the Crab Men.”

Despite becoming a popular fixture of Universal Westerns, Johnson would make his first blip on the pop culture radar by appearing in a number of high profile sci-fi films which went on to become cult classics.  In 1953 Johnson became a human host for a marooned alien in It Came From Outer Space, which doubled as a well written analogy for the danger and senselessness of cold war aggression and international intolerance.  Not as clever, but equally dipped in pop culture lore, was his follow up sci-fi feature This Island Earth, which eventually became a staple on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and has become one of the most popular cult films of the 1950’s.  However, not all of his sci-fi films were as well done and he finished the trilogy in Roger Corman’s drive in schlock fest Attack of the Crab Men in which he played a scientist who acts as a martyr to save his team.

Russell Johnson appears on “The Twilight Zone” as the time traveler Professor Manion, who attempts to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, in Rod Serling’s “Back There.”

Yet while his sci-fi films are appreciated today as cult masterpieces, Russell was forced to take them as a way to keep food on the table.  Sci-fi films were considered the bottom feeders of Hollywood entertainment and Johnson was becoming considered a B-movie actor.  As a natural way to keep making money Johnson turned his attention to television, making his first post-For Men Only TV debut as a gangster on The Adventures of Superman.  While becoming popular on the various anthology programs, such as Climax! and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Johnson also appeared in a wide range of TV classics including The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Lawman, Gunsmoke, Route 66, Ben Casey, 77 Sunset Strip, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Lassie and The Outer Limits.  During this era he would receive his first regular role as Marshall Gib Scott in a forgettable western called Black Saddle, and he became a contender for the role of Dr. Kildare, which he lost to Richard Chamberlain.  But possibly Johnson’s most memorable TV appearance at this era of his career was in The Twilight Zone when he played time traveler Professor Manion who attempts to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Rod Serling’s brilliant teleplay Back There.  Serling was so pleased with Johnson’s performance that he had him back a second time for another time travelling story, Execution.

Russell Johnson with the seven stranded castaways on “Gilligan’s Island.” Although the show would make him an icon, for years he would credit it as being a hindrance on his career.

In 1964 Johnson received a pilot script written by producer Sherwood Schwartz for a sit-com about seven people shipwrecked on an island.  Unimpressed by the script, deeming it too goofy, Russell was strapped for cash and had a young family to feed, which prompted him to make the pilot thinking that it was so terrible that it would never be picked up by any television network.  The show was Gilligan’s Island, and to say the least, it was bought.  Russell Johnson was cast as Professor Roy Hinkley (bet you didn’t know he had a name), and acted as the “straight man” and “voice of reason” on an island full of eccentric characters.  The intellect on the island, The Professor’s role was essential to the program because each week he would come up with another plan that would help him and his companions from getting off of the island.  Of course, they never worked, although to be fair, most of his ideas became victim to Gilligan’s bumbling.  Although he wouldn’t even be included in the opening credits of the show in the first season, Johnson would eventually become the third member of a team consisting of himself, Alan Hale Jr. as The Skipper and Bob Denver as Gilligan,  that acted as the three central actors on the program.   Despite Johnson’s low expectations of the pilot, the show became a hit and it has never gone off the air.  Constantly reran since it’s cancellation in 1967, Gilligan’s Island spun off into an animated series, a number of TV movies which saw the castaways rescued and, in one memorable movie, play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.

After Alan Hale Jr as The Skipper and Bob Denver as Gilligan, Russell Johnson became the third most prominent character on “Gilligan’s Island” and the three became a team of sorts. The Professor played the straight man and “voice of reason” on an island of eccentric characters.

But despite the success of the series, Russell Johnson was not happy with being tied down to The Professor.  He felt that his experience as an actor was being compromised by the camp quality of the series and felt it was below his level of talent, and he was not alone.  Many of his co-stars felt the same way and Gilligan’s Island was not always a happy set.  But by forming a strong friendship with Alan Hale Jr. and Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann, Johnson managed to keep a sense of humor and have fun with what was given to him.  However, when Gilligan’s Island came to an end, Johnson was dismayed to find that he was the victim of typecasting.  With his portrayal of a mild mannered college professor burnt into the consciousness of the mass public, Johnson found that he was no longer cast in the villain roles that he sought out before Gilligan’s Island.  Johnson has admitted in dozens of interviews that he became embittered towards the show for a long while and blamed it for ruining his career.  Yet despite the set back he still managed to make a few post-Gilligan TV appearances in programs such as The Invaders, The Big Valley, That Girl, Ironside, Cannon, Wonder Woman, The Jeffersons, Dallas, Knots Landing, Fame, Newhart and MacGuyver.  He also would also have another unlikely cult hit by becoming the uncredited narrator in the English translation to the classic anime series Robotech.  A truly versatile actor, Johnson was ready to take any kind of role, but struggled to prove that he was far more than just The Professor.

Russell Johnson with former co-stars Alan Hale Jr., Bob Denver and Dawn Welles on a memorable episode of Alf in 1987. The set of “Gilligan’s Island” was not always a happy one, but Johnson maintained a sense of humor via his close friendship with Hale and Welles.

As time went on, and as Gilligan Island’s popularity continued to grow and entertain multiple generations, Johnson eventually realize that “If you can’t beat them, join them” and re-examined his role in the pop culture arena.  The result was an embracing of the series, and by the 1980’s Johnson became one of the most prolific and accessible members of the Gilligan Island cast.  A favorite at autograph shows and nostalgia conventions, where he would often team up with Dawn Welles, Johnson would meet fans and talk openly about his experiences on Gilligan’s Island.  Never a man who was afraid to say what he truly thought, he published an intelligent and revealing book about his career with writer Steve Cox in 1992 titled Here On Gilligan’s Island.  He would do a final reprise of his role of The Professor in an unlikely appearance on Alf in 1987, and he even appeared with his Gilligan Island co-stars in a clever epilogue during the closing credits of an episode of Roseanne in 1995 where he played Becky’s husband Mark (you have to see it to understand).

When his son David contracted AIDS in the late 80′s, Russell Johnson became an early celebrity spokesperson for AIDS awareness and spent the rest of his life working with various AIDS organizations.

By the end of the 90’s Russell Johnson had officially retired from acting, but when he wasn’t making public appearances at autograph shows and doing charity events, he became involved in AIDS activism and supported various organizations dedicated to increasing awareness and finding a cure for the disease.  When his son David contracted AIDS in the late 80’s, he began to work for various AIDS organizations and his father supported him by acting as a spokesperson for AIDS awareness when the public still had little understanding of the disease.  Although his son died from his ailment in 1994, Johnson and his family continued to work with AIDS organizations and fundraisers through the years.

Throughout is life Russell Johnson was many things to many people, but to us he’ll always be The Professor.  He may have never got the castaways off that island, which will keep him forever stranded in our hearts and minds.

 

 

The sad truth is that we currently live in a world where the music we hear on the radio has less substance than a Partridge Family song.  With limited lyrics, singers high on auto-tune and fame being created on reality shows and YouTube, the era of the radio hero is officially dead.  However, the good news is that there is still a world full of brilliant musicians that are creating incredible music.  But being firmly outside of the mainstream, it’s often a bit harder to find them.  None of these artists sold a million albums or hit the top forty this in 2013, but they truly represent the best of the best and kept my faith in music.

PCA’s MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR – RODRIGUEZ

PCA’s Musician of the Year – Sixto Rodriguez, subject of the Oscar winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” which worldwide stardom after forty years of obscurity.

So is it right to name a 71 year old musician who hasn’t released an original album since 1971 musician of the year?  Usually I wouldn’t do it, but until 2012 almost nobody had ever heard of Rodriguez and 2013 saw his fame explode as he became an international house hold name.

Although it seemed like Sixto Rodriguez’s music career ended over forty years ago after recording only two albums, 2013 was truly the year of the Sugar Man.  When the documentary on Rodriguez, Searching for Sugarman, won an Oscar in early 2013 people worldwide discovered the music of the Detroit musician for the very first time and suddenly millions had a new favorite artist.  Writing songs that rival Bob Dylan in strength and featuring the street cred of Lou Reed, Rodriguez’s two albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971) were pretty much ignored in North America at the time of their release, but became staples of record collectors in South Africa and part of Australia.  Only in the last two years did the rest of the world find out about him.  Just how good are these albums?  Well, when I first got my hands on them I listened to both of them back to back every single day for nearly three months.  Rodriguez writes with a sense of blunt honesty and crass beauty that he manages to reach right into your soul and your mind.  Beautiful love songs, bitter break up songs, political manifestos and songs about the brutality of American society landscape, Rodriguez’s songs are as true today as they were when he wrote them forty years ago, which is probably why his music is easily embraced  by a modern public just discovering him now.  Two of the most powerful albums ever recorded, Rodriguez manages to play with the emotions of the listener through powerful song writing and brutal truth.   It is some of the most incredible music that you’ve never heard.

Rodriguez’s albums “Cold Fact” (1970) and “Coming From Reality” (1971) are the best classic albums that you never heard before. Music doesn’t get better then this.

Although there seemed to be some factual inaccuracies in Searching for Sugarman, the film is an inspirational telling about a Detroit based handyman and construction worker of modest means  whose musical career seemed to have been shattered years before by public apathy, although he became bigger than the Beatles in South Africa without knowing he was a star.  A wonderful crowd pleasing documentary, the Oscar and publicity helped put Rodriguez on the worldwide map.  At the age of 70 Rodriguez did his first world tour, selling out theaters throughout North America, Europe and Africa.  He appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and was featured in a segment on 60 Minutes.  Furthermore, he received an honorary doctorate from Wayne University and there is currently a petition for Rodriguez to get a Kennedy Center Honor.  Although Rodriguez seems to be slowing down his concert appearances with only a few dates scheduled in Europe throughout 2014, he stated in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that he has written thirty more songs and is ready to record them so hopefully we’ll be seeing the first brand new album by Rodriguez in forty three years someday soon.

A true inspiration to every musician who has struggled with their craft, Rodriguez’s music and story has changed the way that I think and write about music. I can not even express how much his music has touched me on an emotional and intellectual level.  It is some of the most wonderful music to reach my ears and he has usurped major music icons as being one of the only musicians alive that I am truly passionate about.  Furthermore, he has directly affected everything I listened to this year, which I think reflects in the selection of artists I put together in this article.  If you haven’t seen Searching for Sugarman or listened to Rodriguez you really don’t know just how good music is.  Good news for you, I’ve linked YouTube videos featuring both of his full albums below!  For more on Rodriguez visit http://sugarman.org/.

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PCA’S BEST NEW MUSIC OF 2013

RACHEL SERMANNI – UNDER MOUNTAINS

Scotland’s Rachel Sermanni’s 2012 album “Under Mountains” was released in North America in 2013.

When I interviewed Rachel Sermanni in 2013 I was struck by the beauty of her delicate, whispery voice.  Just having her talk at me gave me goose bumps, and it only gets better when she sings.  A popular performer throughout European and Canadian folk festivals, Scottish singer Rachel Sermanni released her album Under Mountains in 2012, but it became available in North America for the first time in 2013.  A soft and gentle album for a moody Sunday afternoons, Under Mountains is a deeply personal collection of songs that manages to stick to the souls of listeners.  Dream like and poetic, Sermanni goes beyond just being another “girl with a guitar.”  Her songs are intelligent and sensitive with a hint of whimsicalness.  But what draws the listener in is that incredible voice.  Soft and gentle with the slightest hint of her Scottish accent, it’s incredible that a voice so young sounds like it’s coming from a place so ancient.  Sermani makes you want to fall in love with something or someone all over again.  Bittersweet love songs are joined by nature based imagery for a mysterious musical journey.  One of the most wonderful singer/songwriters in the world today Under Mountains is an album that has a timeless appeal.   For more info on Rachel Sermanni visit http://www.rachelsermanni.net/.

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KELLY AND THE KELLYGIRLS – THE DEEP ENDING

Toronto’s Kelly and the Kellygirls are back with their long awaited concept album “The Deep Ending.”

Filled with the majesty, word play and energy that I’ve come to expect from Toronto renaissance man R. Kelly Clipperton, Kelly and the Kellygirls’ latest album The Deep Ending is a testament to why this group is one of my all-time favorite bands.  The long awaited concept album written by Clipperton and song writing partner Yeshua Ragbir revolves around Clipperton’s personal relationship with the water, filled with imagery and lyrics about beaches, sun, sand, swimming and drowning.  Now while many might expect mariachi bands and lots of steel drums in a concept album based on beaches, Kelly wisely disposed of these cliques and strongly utilizes the horn section which has become a trademark for his music, maintaining the cool sophistication of Kelly’s uniquely distinctive sound.  The result is the creation of a different type of summer sound.  From the deeply sensitive First of Summer, the homoerotic Lifeguards, high energy ska flavored Here Comes the Sharks and the powerfully bittersweet Blackmail, Insults, Tenderness and Tears,  Kelly has created another strong and deeply personal entry into his growing body of work.  The Deep Ending continues to reflect the mirth  that listeners have come to love about Kelly and the Kellygirls.  For more information on Kelly and the Kellygirls visit http://www.kellyclipperton.com/.

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THIS HISSES – ANHEDONIA

Winnipeg’s This Hisses featuring Julia Ryckman, JP Perron and Patrick Short reveals the darker side of the Canadian music scene int heir second release “Anhedonia.”

This Hisses is an acquired taste, but one that tapped into the angst ridden music that I listened to in my twenties, revealing that sometimes it’s not so bad giving into that part of your personality all over again.  One of the most unique bands I came across in 2013, This Hisses are dark, mysterious and ridiculously sexy in a David Lynch meets Tim Burton sort of way.   Combines punk and opera in a stunning juxtaposition of beauty and angst, This Hisses creates a sound that harkens back to that of Nightwish or Mazzy Star, but with a touch of The Ramones and The White Stripes.  Singer/bassist Julia Ryckman teams up with Patrick Short and JP Perron to expose the darker side of Canadian music.  Lyrically powerful, Ryckman’s vocals seem to perform a deadly dance with Short’s guitar through a collection of deliciously bleak melodies.  Ryckman is easily one of the most original vocalists in Canadian’s punk scene today and, as a result, creates a sound distinctly different from anything out there.  A classically trained opera singer, Ryckman is like a black angel from a beautiful nightmare whose arias haunt listeners as her voice smashes through This Hisses’ punk sound.  Anhedonia is the second release for This Hisses, and is amongst some of the most interesting, not to mention hauntingly beautiful, music coming out of the Canadian West right now.  Although not the type of music I would normally listen to on a daily basis, This Hisses captured my imagine in 2013 via their originality combined with the strength of their music and lyrics.  For more on This Hisses visit http://www.thishisses.com/.

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ROBOTEYES – ROBOTEYES

A strong debut CD from Toronto’s Roboteyes is a promising beginning for greatness for members Ryan Ford, Matt Servo and Kate LeDeuce.

A powerful debut from Toronto based synth pop band Roboteyes, their self-titled album is is easily the best pop music that I heard in 2013.  Combining 60’s camp, 70’s disco and 80’s synth into a mishmash of high energy art, Roboteyes is distinctly modern with a flare of retro.  The group’s enigmatic front woman, Kate LeDeuce, is a vocal powerhouse, creating melodies that range from high energy, to bittersweet, to downright haunting.  In 2013 Roboteyes sort of came strong out of nowhere, getting attention on CBC Radio and releasing a series of visually powerful videos made up of vintage stock footage, securing their retro flair.  With sophisticated synth sound provided by keyboardist Matt Servo, LeDeuce co-wrote the album with guitarist Ryan Ford, which featured the pair singing as a duo on Break My Heart.  Hopefully in the future we’ll see Ryan and Kate sing together more often because the two create magic together.  Rumor has it that there is more Roboteyes coming in the near future with a new evolved sound, leading me to believe that they are destined to become players in the next wave of Canadian music stars.  For more on Roboteyes visit http://robotey.es/.

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THE ORION EXPERIENCE – CHILDREN OF THE STARS

New York’s The Orion Experience released their concept album “Children of the Stars,” which served as a soundtrack for Reef Roxx, Orion Simprini and Linda Howatt’s “rock opera” stage show.

2013 was obviously the year of the concept album with New York’s The Orion Experience releasing their tongue in cheek new-age release Children of the Stars on an unsuspecting audience.  Abandoning the straight pop/rock  sound from previous releases, Children of the Stars is The Orion Experiences’ “electronic” album filled with a collection of high energy dance/pop tracks which weaves together a loosely based story about a generation of youth evolving to another plane of existence and awareness.  Children of the Stars acted as a soundtrack for The Orion Experience’s stage show of the same name which received rave reviews when it was performed in New York City during the summer of 2013.  Front man Orion Simprini brings forth his friendly and optimistic brand of modern bubblegum, and Linda Howlatt steps forward in a larger role vocally by singing with Simprini as a duo, and her two solo performances, I Was Made 4 You and Dandy, are easily the standout tracks on the album.  Children of the Stars is a fun album filled with intelligent pop tracks, proving that you don’t just need to repeat a lyric over and over again to write a great pop song.  For more on The Orion Experience visit http://www.theorionexperience.com/.

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CAITLIN CURRIE – ALL A DREAM

Although copies of Caitlin Currie’s EP “All a Dream” are out of print and hard to get your hands on, she is destined to become the bohemian sweetheart of the Canadian music scene.

Caitlin Currie is probably the most obscure musician that has made this list.  However, her five song EP, All a Dream, has easily become a rare gem which has captivated me and she has become a performer which I am extremely enthusiastic about. Caitlin Currie comes off as a female equivalent of Leonard Cohen.  I am not over exaggerating.  With a unique voice, strong poetic lyrics and a bitter sweet old world sound, Currie has the potential to be the darling of Canadian bohemians everywhere.  Although she does not have the classic sweet voice that one might expect from a performer in the “girl with guitar” genre (she is more Marianne Faithful than Taylor Swift), Currie’s vocals are more interesting and honest then the majority of auto-tuned poppettes that litter the cultural highway.  Simultaneously strong and vulnerable, Currie’s voice often falters with emotion, piercing the heart of the listener.  Meanwhile her songs are some of the best written and most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long while.  Currie writes with poetic bluntness, combining her unique vocal style with guitar, ukulele and, in one outstanding moment, the accordion.  Honestly, this woman needs to write a lot more material with the accordion.  The only downfall with All a Dream is that there are only five tracks on the EP, and it seems to be continuously out of print.  Caitlin Currie is a performer that needs to be heard and has a bright future on the alternative folk and roots scene.  If you are able to secure a copy of All a Dream hang onto it like pure gold.  For more on Caitlin Currie visit http://www.fallenloverecords.com/caitlincurrie.shtml and https://soundcloud.com/caitlincurrie.

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WHO TO WATCH IN 2014

In 2014 keep an eye out for Nikki W., Elise Testone, Gameface and The Mockers.

When I interviewed fifteen year old Nikki Whitebread, aka Orianna, in the summer of 2013 about her debut album Wonderland, she was truly a performer in a state of transition.  A true prodigy, Nikki’s voice and writing skills are astonishing for a girl her age, but told me that Wonderland was already a thing of the past and that she had finally found her style and voice which we’ll see in her upcoming album being produced by Canadian producer Gavin Brown.  Dropping the name Orianna and now calling herself Nikki W, I am on the edge of my seat to hear what comes next.  Wonderland is a fantastic disk, so if the best is yet to come it’s sure to be something incredible.  You’ve heard it here first.  Nikki W. is going to be one of the biggest names in Canadian pop music.  I don’t know when but remember that name.  You’ll hear it again soon.

In 2012 singer Elise Testone created a following on American Idol, although she failed to win top prize due to the fact that she was just too different for the mass public.  Testone’s first solo album, In This Life, is set to be released on February 11th. Stay tuned to PCA for more information and a revealing interview with Testone in the weeks to come.

Power punk favorites Gameface are back after a decade hiatus with a new album, Now is What Matters Now, which is scheduled to be released March 18th.  Look for our interview with Gameface lead singer Jeff Caudill about the reformation of Gameface very soon.

Finally, I had the pleasure of getting an advance copy of The Mockers next single from Seth Gordon and, while I can’t talk much about it, it is really something pretty special.  It may be something that might escape the radar in North America but I predict big things in Europe. Look to PCA for info on this story in the near future.

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